Papers of William Stelling von Arx


Manuscript Collection 24

(5 linear feet)

Processed by
Melissa Lamont

Processing of this collection was partly supported by a grant from the Friends of the Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics

Access: unrestricted

Copyright: Permission to publish material from the collection must be authorized by the Institution Archivist

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Data Library and Archives
Woods Hole, MA 02543

March 2001

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Table of Contents

Biographical Note


Scope and Content Note

Series Description

Processing Note

Related Collections 

Container List

Biographical Note

William Stelling von Arx (1916-1999) joined the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in 1945 as a Research Associate in Physical Oceanography to work with Henry Stetson on Project 19. Von Arx took an undergraduate degree in geology and geophysics from Brown University and an M.S. in physics from Yale. While at WHOI he completed a Ph.D. in geophysical fluid dynamics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

He worked on Operation Crossroads early in his career and also Project I-88, the Barataria Bay Model for the Freeport Sulphur Company in 1949. His principal scientific interests were in primary circulations of oceans and atmosphere, heat balance of the earth and physical geodesy of ocean areas. He is known for his work with rotating basin models and his interests in the scientific uses of cameras and photographic technology. Later in his career he turned his efforts to long-range solutions to world energy problems and he pursued a new technique for the collection and storage of solar heat in natural or open ponds.

In August of 1950 the Executive Committee appointed him Physical Oceanographer and in 1956 the Committee appointed him Oceanographer.

Von Arx taught at Harvard in 1947-1949 and at MIT from 1956-1971. In 1963 he accepted an appointment at MIT as Professor of Oceanography and continued his research activities at the Institution. One of his students was Ferris Webster. Von Arx returned to the Institution, full time, in 1967 and was appointed Senior Scientist. He became Scientist Emeritus in 1979.

He was a Fellow in the American Geophysical Union, American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Meteorological Society, among others. He was an honorary member of the Smithsonian Institution Council and was widely published in journals such as Deep-Sea Research, Tellus, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, Nature and the Journal of Meteorology.


William S. von Arx deposited one carton of data and another carton of correspondence with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Data Library and Archives (DLA) in 1980. Also in 1980 he deposited numerous rolls of film from projects including rotating basin experiments, cloud camera, GEON and others. This acquisition also included ten boxes of glass slides. Historical instruments used in von Arx’s projects were donated to the DLA at various times. Several folders of correspondence and drafts of papers were retrieved from his home after his death in 1999.

Scope and Content Note

The von Arx papers dating from 1942 to 1977 consist of five boxes, two map folders along with 72 rolls of 16mm film, eleven folders of primarily black and white photographs and 40 glass lantern slides, comprising approximately 5 linear feet. The files contain correspondence, manuscripts, notes, proposals, data and charts.

Series Description

Biographical information

The series incorporates several versions of the von Arx curriculum vita, copies of articles from MIT alumni publications and WHOI publications as well as his thesis.

Correspondence and memos

One folder in box 1 deals entirely with his work with Pergamon Press and another folder contains paperwork from his term as a National Science Foundation (NSF) reviewer. Correspondents included: Roger Revelle; D.L. Cover, US Navy; Morton Rubin, Chief, US Weather Bureau; W.H. Bradley, Chief Geologist, US Geological Survey.

Another folder in this series includes von Arx’s thoughts on Director Paul Fye’s reorganization of the Institution that appears to have been presented to the Executive Committee and Director. Several folders in the first box involve von Arx’s concern with educating new scientists.

Projects and papers

Projects include Operation Crossroads, or the Bikini Atoll, Rongelap Lagoon, Barataria Bay, current meters, cameras and altimeters as well as navigation. Multiple drafts of papers were retained when the drafts contained substantial revisions or the remarks of reviewers.

Accompanying material

This series includes photographs, glass lantern slides and charts and maps. The charts and maps are housed in the Manuscript Collection oversize files in map cabinets. Photographs have been placed in the individual photograph drawers in the archives vault. The lantern slides are also housed in the archives vault.  

Processing Note

Papers retrieved from the von Arx home in 1999 were mildew damaged, some beyond salvage including several log books from Chain, cruise 83. Damaged materials that could be salvaged were dried and dusted or photocopied. The photocopies of the cruise notebooks have been added to the Ships Files collection.

Papers were placed in acid-free folders and cartons. Photographs were placed in archival plastic sleeves. The film was placed in metal film canisters and labeled.The film is numbered and shelved in a climate-controlled film vault. The photographs are in the Archives’ collection of scientists’ photographs in alphabetical order in the Archives vault.

The original arrangement of the materials could not be discerned. Effort was made to arrange the folders by project and subject. The original titles of the folders were kept, when known. No logbooks or other documentation were available to identify much of the film. Film from projects, such as the rotating basin experiments was sampled for various dates, techniques or subjects. From the GEON project, for instance, a roll of film each from Jupiter, Saturn and the Moon were kept. Finished products, such as the educational film “Laboratory studies of the wind driven ocean circulation” were retained. Film documenting the history of the Institution or the local area was also retained. A complete listing of the photography from the von Arx collection is located in the container list.

Von Arx also deposited a large number of glass slides in 1980. These slides were likely used in his classroom, many were made from illustrations from his publications. These were also sampled. Images identified as illustrating his published papers were removed as were images taken from other published works. Images of people, instruments and ships, or images not included in the collection either through his published papers or photograph collection were kept. Many of the 50 remaining slides concern the International Ice Patrol, and work on the Gulf Stream.

Processing of this collection was partly supported by a grant from the Friends of the Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics.

Related Collections

A number of scientists worked on Operation Crossroads, also known as the Bikini Atoll project. An unprocessed document box located in the Archives Vault contains materials related to the overall project.
  The Columbus O’Donnell Iselin papers (MC-16) contain references to von Arx. The Records of the WHOI Office of the Director (AC-9) contain material concerning von Arx and his projects including box 11, folder 64 and box 13 folders 12 and 55. Also in the Records of the Director see correspondence, individual and personnel and Office of Naval Research (Nonr) contracts.
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Container List


Box   Folder Title
    Biographical information and CV
1   Bibliography, n.d.
    Honors thesis, A spectrochemical study of certain igneous rocks of central New Hampshire, April 1942
    Proposed program for thesis, May 27, 1954
    Thesis draft, An experimental study of the dependence of the primary ocean circulation on the mean zonal wind field, May 1955
    Correspondence and Memos
    Pergamon Press, 1955-1957
    Joint Crossroads Committee, 1947
    Correspondence, 1956-1957
    Correspondence, 1957
    National Science Foundation Advisory Panel for Earth Sciences, July 1957
    Correspondence, 1958
    Correspondence, 1959
    Correspondence, 1969
    Phoenix, December 1961
    A Science in Bondage, February 1965
    Alumni Lecture, MIT, June 14, 1965
    Memo: WHOI Education, 1967-1968
    Notes: Educational Philosophy, MIT, undated
    Memo: Educational participation, December 12, 1975
    Letter: University of Alaska, Geophysical Institute, February 1977
    Memo: Staff Committee, January 9, 1978
    Reflections on war and post-war years at WHOI, July 1991
    Projects and Papers
2   Muir Cruise (1-11) 45 Philadelphia – Daka- New York, 1945-1946
    Drafts: Circulation systems of the Bikini and Rongelap Lagoons, c. 1946
    Drafts: Some aspects of the physical oceanography of two atolls, c. 1946-1947 (2 folders)
    A second survey of the physical oceanography of Bikini Atoll, prel. rpt. – revised with correspondence from W.H.. Munk, July 1946
    Second survey of Bikini: Diffusion data, current data, tide data, charts, notes, graph plots, 1946
    First Bikini survey, current observations, March-May 1946
    Bikini Atoll data, c. 1946
    Bikini Atoll field survey, c. 1946
    Bikini Atoll field surveys, c. 1946
  Paper read before the Limnological Society of America, Boston, December 29, 1946
    The current systems at the Bikini Atoll, a report. May 1946
    Base charts prepared by K.O. Emery for the Bikini Atoll project, 1947
    A survey of the physical oceanography of the Rongelap Lagoon, (prelim.rpt.), 1946
    Notebook: Memos, data, correspondence, plans and reports, 1946
    Navy request for chart of Bikini Lagoon prior to Baker Day, and copy of chart, July 7, 1947
3   Barataria Bay model tests, October 1949
    Barataria Bay model tests, October 3-13, 1949
    Barataria Bay model tests, October 3-18, 1949
    Barataria Bay model tests; titrations by Nat Corwin, October 5-13, 1949
    Barataria Bay model – A report to Freeport Sulphur Co. 3rd draft 1950
    Draft: Barataria Bay model tests; acid and water density adjustments, October 4. 1949
    Barataria Bay model tests, Appendix III, 1949
    The Barataria Bay model, a report to the Freeport Sulphur Co. August 1950 (copy #8)
    Unidentified data with Monthly mean world pressure and pressure anomaly profiles, 1950
    Some suggestions for future current measuring techniques, 1952?
    Notes, data, correspondence: current meter, 1947-1951
    Notes, correspondence, drawings: current meter, 1955-1962
    Discussion and correspondence concerning electrodes, 1950-1952
    USGS acknowledgment, Prof. Paper 260-BD, May 28, 1954
    Measurement of the lateral set of a submarine by time integration of the rudder angle used in steering a straight course, May 1957
    Notes and drafts: Rotating basin reports, 1952-1953 
    Notes: WHOI 55-13, by Alan J. Faller and William S. von Arx, c.1955
    On the fine structure of the Gulf Stream front, manuscript, 1955
    Comments on AEC conference on the disposal of radioactive wastes, June 1955
4   Patents: applications, correspondence, 1956-1957
    Schematic drawing, aircraft camera, July 9, 1957
    Progress report J-1, January 1-April 1, 1956: The Ocean Model, 1956
    Progress report for J-1, Period 1 April – 30 June, 1956: Studies of the ocean circulation, 1956
    Synoptic photograph optics, 1953, 1957-1959
    Flat model, notes, 1954
    Notes: First order solution for a near earth satellite…, n.d.
    Time-lapse cameras for R/V Crawford, 1956
    Reports, notebook and other USS Cobbler information, 1957
    Proposal and correspondence: Continuation of JOG-LOG, June 1958
    Navigation and leveling at sea, undated
    Manuscript: Motions of the sea and air, 1962
    University of Alaska, 1962
    Rotating tank apparatus, n.d.
    A proposal to NSF to equip a graduate research laboratory for physical oceanography, 1964
    Comments on chemical parts of MIT’s program in oceanography and marine physical geodesy and lecture drafts, 1964
    Given: the Earth, 1964-1965
    Practical astronomy from shipboard, 1964-1965
    A study of satellite altimetry for geophysical and oceanographic measurement, 1965
    Manuscripts: Level surface profiles across the Puerto Rico Trench, 1966
    Orbiting microwave altimeter, 1965-1966
    First Marine Geodesy Symposium, 1966
5   Industrial Liaison Symposium, December 1, 1966
    Voice of America, The Oceans (Blue Planet), 1966
    Celestron Pacific – Telescopes and camera, 1966-1968
    Log, includes Chain 67, May-August 1968
    Convex mirrors, n.d.
    Unidentified data [camera work?], n.d.
    Gravity at sea; an account of two experiments, pt.II, n.d.
    Draft: Experimental oceanography, n.d.
    Kern instruments, n.d.
    Physical oceanography, n.d.
    Correspondence from O. Steinebrunner with notes, September c. 1970
    An optical trap for the use of diffuse solar radiation in hyperthermal aquaculture, Sea Grant project, 1976-1977
    Proposal: Non concentrating collectors for solar heating and cooling applications, 1977
    Draft: A groundwater storage solar heating system for greenhouse agriculture, October 18, 1977
    Proposal: Annual cycle solar heat storage and retrieval system, 1977
    Moving water, notes, undated
    Rolled graph paper data, magnetic or gravity measurements? 1946-1947, 5 boxes
    Accompanying material
Photo drawer   Still Images – Photo collections
    Prints and negatives from Cruise Atlantis 167, Earth inductor photographs for correlation with V.63 speedomax record
    Negatives with notes on location, Atlantis 167, Sea state, 
    Photos removed from Muir Cruise and Bikini Atoll, Box 2
    Photos removed from Rongelap Lagoon & Barataria Bay, Box 2
    Photos removed from Current meter, Box 3
    Photos removed from Rotating basin reports, Box 3
    Crawford cameras, removed from Box 4, following Time-lapse cameras for R/V Crawford
    Nonr 1831, prog. rept., June 1956, removed from Box 4, following Time-lapse cameras for R/V Crawford
    Photos removed from Navigation and leveling at sea, and Univ. of Alaska, Box 4
    Photos removed from boxes 4 & 5, Proposal to NSF…, Some techniques…, Kern instruments, Moving Water
    Photos and negatives removed from end of box 5
box   Glass Lantern Slides (50) -- Vault
map drawer   Muir cruise data charts
    JOG-LOG, USS Cobbler data charts
    Bikini Atoll nautical charts
    GEK recorder, Earth current and Twilight studies
Film  vault   16mm film